Merely the rumblings of a ‘chronically psychotic’ senile old man?

‘Moors Murderer’ Ian Brady, aged 75, was giving evidence today to a mental health tribunal held in Ashworth High Security Hospital as he is biding to be transferred from hospital to prison. The hearing was being relayed to the press and public on TV screens at Manchester Civil Justice Centre. I followed the live updates on the hearing, reported by Chris Attridge.

A number of Brady’s statements (highlighted below) made a strong impression on me and I kept thinking about them throughout the day:

When Brady was asked about the theory according to which he stayed in his hospital room because he was paranoid about other patients, he responded: “Only the authorities call it paranoia. The prisoners say it is sensible suspicion. You learn to read people for survival purposes”

 “The most beneficial and therapeutic treatment any prisoner can get is decent intelligent staff in a decent intelligent ward…”

“Some of these psychiatrists, I would throw a net over them. I would not let allow them on the street. They are unbelievable. How has this person got the job in the first place and how is it they’re able to hold the job?”

Brady said that he stays in his “cell” (hospital room) because of the “negative, regressive, provocative staff” that he is avoiding.

Brady said that he hates Ashworth because of the way “the regime has changed to a penal warehouse”

“They [psychiatrists] give you false drugs and turn you into a zombie”

“I talk to patients who are intelligent. I talk to patients who are not intelligent. Most prisoners are perfectly mentally healthy compared with the paranoia of prison officials”


A common thread that seems to run through all the above mentioned statements (and the whole of Ian Brady’s evidence to his mental health tribunal today) is Brady’s tendency to talk about patients in Ashworth (a High Secure Psychiatric Hospital) as ‘prisoners’, to refer to his hospital room as a ‘cell’, to portray mental health staff at Ashworth as ‘prison officials’, and to characterise Ashworth as ‘a penal warehouse’, i.e. a custodial, retributive institution.

In his evidence today, Brady also talked about ‘the paranoia’ or rather ‘the sensible suspicion’ that inpatient mental health settings tend to induce to patients/prisoners – ‘sensible suspicion’ that becomes an essential survival strategy in such settings. Brady seems to regard ‘decent intelligent mental health staff’ and ‘a decent intelligent ward environment’ at the centre of beneficial therapeutic treatment for patients/prisoners.

In addition, Brady commented on the beyond belief incompetence of some psychiatrists and the ‘negative, regressive, provocative’ and ‘paranoid’ attitudes of some mental health staff. Finally, Brady mentioned the zombification of psychiatric patients through copious amounts of at times inappropriate (‘false’) psychiatric medication.

As I was reading Brady’s statements, I kept thinking how much sense they make to me and how much they resonate with my own experience of hospitalisation and detention under the Mental Health Act 2007 in an acute inpatient ward in Manchester back in 2009. I strongly experienced my hospitalisation and detention as imprisonment and the acute ward relational environment as custodial and retributive rather than safe and therapeutic.

So Brady’s ‘prison talk’ makes perfect sense to me. The acute ward environment I experienced, being untherapeutic and unsafe, was far from conducive to an atmosphere and relationships of trust between mental health staff and patients, which was likely to give rise to suspicion, persecutory thoughts and feelings, and an acute sense of being in danger, i.e. the core of paranoia, in patients. Again, Brady’s ‘sensible suspicion’ makes a lot of sense to me.

I, like Brady, believe that ‘decent intelligent mental health staff’ and ‘a decent intelligent ward environment’ are at the centre of any beneficial therapeutic treatment for psychiatric patients. I have come across incredibly incompetent psychiatrists and mental health staff at large, so Brady’s comment about the beyond belief incompetence of some psychiatrists resonates a lot with me.

I, too, have witnessed ‘negative, regressive, provocative’ and defensive (‘paranoid’) attitudes in some mental health staff. Finally, I was turned into a zombie, i.e. very lethargic and far from being mentally and physically alert, during my hospitalisation and detention whilst heavily medicated. Hence, I could not agree more with Brady’s statement about the zombification of psychiatric patients.

But as I was reflecting on Brady’s statements and their resonance with my experience, I caught myself panicking…Was I truly agreeing with statements made by one of the most dangerous–if not the most dangerous-child abusers and killers in Britain’s modern history? How can I possibly bring myself to agree with a man who has been described as ‘an evil monster’, ‘perversely clever’, and ‘highly manipulative’?  How can I possibly relate to statements made by somebody who for years was likely to have been exercising control in one of the cruellest ways possible, i.e. by refusing to disclose where he had disposed of the body of one of his victims, so that the victim’s mother died without being able to offer her son a proper burial?

After all, how can I possibly take seriously and support what could be taken to be merely the rumblings of a ‘chronically psychotic’, ‘paranoid schizophrenic’ (Brady’s diagnosis) senile old man? Or can I…?